ANN MASSEY gives us her top 10 terrifying Banshee appearances from history in Ireland…

When you think of Ireland and folklore, the first thing to come to mind wherever you are in the world, has to be the dreaded Banshee.

This harbinger of death sounds the death knell for each great clan of Ireland.

The screaming wraith dates back to the days of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Dalcassians.

In times of war, the Banshee would appear as old washerwoman who would be seen cleansing human heads and limbs or blood stained uniforms in the river, turned the water crimson with human blood prior to battle.

Banshee

She is either seen as a hideous old hag, with blood red eyes, matted long grey hair, green teeth and gnarly fingers and nails, or as a beautiful enchantress.

Either way, once you hear her piercing scream, your number is most certainly up.

Aoibhell, First of the Banshees

The first of all Banshees, Aoibhell was Queen of the Sidhe in the Province of Munster and was the guiding spirit of the Dalcassians, who went on to become the mighty O’Brien clan, started by none other than Brian Boru.

Aoibhell played a magical harp, and if you heard the enchanting sound, death was within your shadow.

Cúchulainn himself heard it in battle and realized his life would soon be forfeit.

The last she appeared to was Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf.

Clíobhna, Queen of the Banshees

From Cork, the lady of the Tuatha Dé Danann lost her mortal love to an ocean wave and the tide at Glandore Harbour is known as Clíobhna’s Wave.

The Banshee was the portent of death for the old Irish families of Munster.

She was said to be a fierce rival of Aoibhell and at one point, cast a spell that turned the O’Brien Banshee into a white cat.

The Bunratty Banshee

In 1642 Lady Fanshawe was a guest of the O’Briens family, owners of Bunratty Castle.

She was woken from her slumber in the dead of night to see the moon was lighting the figure of a pale, young red headed woman.

On second, terrified glance, it became clear the bedraggled wretch was floating at her upper storey window, with only the river many feet below to break her fall.

Bunratty Castle is a large 15th-century tower house in County Clare, the ancient home of the O’Briens family.

The noblewoman remained rooted to her bed as the figure moaned in agonizing despair.

The following morning Lady Fanshawe heard a member of the family had died in the night.

The Banshee was said to be the tormented soul of a drowned servant girl.

The Banshee of Shane’s Castle

Shane’s Castle in Randlestown, County Antrim has been home to the O’Neill family for centuries.

The Banshee for this powerful family is none other than Kathleen O’Neill herself.

Her father was out hunting and found a white heifer caught in a sacred whitethorn tree.

Ignoring warnings, he freed the heifer and when he returned home he discovered his daughter Kathleen had been taken to the bottom of Lough Neagh due to his sacrilege.

She was returned on the promise she would always return to the castle to herald a family death.

Her own room remains for that purpose.

Engraving of a banshee

Banshee of Kilchrist Old Church

In 1776, a family group were passing the old church in County Clare after an evening of entertainment.

In the darkening of the evening they were startled by an old hag appearing in front of them, clapping her hands and wailing in the most chilling way.

As the women in the group screamed in fear, the men ran towards the apparition only for her to disappear before their eyes.

The following day, they learned a family member had passed away suddenly in Dublin.

The Workhouse Banshee

In Corofin, County Galway, there was a workhouse that began operation in the mid-nineteenth century.

It was originally built to house 500 inmates, however, at is peak there were almost 5000 residents.

Most peculiar and never before heard of, a Banshee would appear at the nearby crossroads to herald the news that an inmate would soon pass.

Banshee of Duckett’s Grove

Unusually, this is a Banshee of Vengeance, brought about by a piseóg or curse on the Duckett family.The family home was Duckett’s Grove in County Carlow.

It was cast by the grieving mother of a young girl having an affair with William Duckett, who died following a fall from a horse on the estate.

It was a curse to bring about financial ruin, despair and of course, death.

The Banshee can be heard screaming from the towers for two days and nights before the imminent death of a member of the family or even a worker on the grounds.

The Banshee Stone of Mullachdubh

A young couple were living a blissful life, until the husband was lost to the ocean waves while fishing just off the coast of County Donegal.

Distraught, the wife turned widow clung to a rock and wailed from morning to night, crying out for her lost love.

So deep was her grief, she descended into madness and became a Banshee.

Her cries were so piercing she woke the dead of those buried in Donegal.

The parish priest blessed her and she dropped dead, but the priest declared her a lost soul and they buried her beneath a rock to prevent her rising again.

If you stop and put your ear to the Banshee Stone you can still hear her scream.

Flight of the Banshees

County Clare arguably has the most documented cases of Banshee activity the ages.

A stream runs From Caherminaun to Dough and is known as Banshee’s Brook.

When the area has a dry spell, the iron rises from the river bed and turns the water crimson, mimicking the washing of bloody clothes in the waters by the Banshees of the past.

When this happened, locals would be on alert as the chilling cries of a host of Banshees would be heard flying through the night soon after the waters turned blood red.

This would go on for days and normality would only resume once a death in the community occurred.

The Banshee of East Wall

East Wall is situated by Dublin Port in the heart of the capital.

In 1941 Dublin was on high alert with World War II and the streets were dark and deserted.

A local doctor was called to the house

of a very sick man and he knew he would be in attendance for much of the night.

Nervous, his wife took their three children to her mother’s cottage in nearby North Strand.

As the doctor worked he heard a wailing through the window as the sick man gasped for breath.

The wife starting screaming for the Banshee not to take her husband and began to throw Holy Water around the room.

Finally the cries dwindled and the man stabilized.

The doctor told the woman she heard nothing but a cat crying and to get some rest.

He returned home in the dark and heard a metallic clang on the stone beneath his feet.

He stooped down and picked up a comb, symbol of the Banshee.

Doctor McDonald shrugged and continued on his way.

As he approached his door he stopped, frozen to the spot.

An old hag sat on his doorstep, wailing and combing her matted grey hair, one long wizened finger pointing at the doctor.

A loud humming above him caused him to look up and away from the old woman.

He saw three Bomber aircraft pass overhead and when he glanced back the woman was gone.

Seconds later the night sky lit up as North Strand exploded into a ball of flames.

Those who died in the bombing included the doctor’s mother in law, wife and three children.

Ann Massey
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